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First Name: John

Last Name: Willis

Birthplace: Columbia, TN, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)

Rating: Pharmacist's Mate Petty Officer 1st Class

Home of Record: TN
Middle Name: Harlan

Date of Birth: 10 June 1921

Date of Death: 28 February 1945

Rank or Rate: Petty Officer First Class

Years Served: 1940-1945
John Harlan Willis

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Harlan Willis

Pharmacist's Mate First Class, U.S. Navy

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Harlan Willis (10 June 1921 - 28 February 1945) was a U.S. Navy sailor who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

John Harlan Willis was born on 10 June 1921, in Columbia, TN. After graduating from Columbia Central High School, he enlisted in the Navy from his birth state in November 1940. He received recruit training at Naval Training Station, Norfolk, VA, and corpsman training at the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, VA. In March 1941, Willis was promoted to Seaman, Second Class and was briefly assigned to the Naval Hospital, Parris Island, SC, transferring to Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, FL, in the late spring. In August 1941 he was promoted to Hospital Apprentice First Class and, in December, to Pharmacist's Mate Third Class. After receiving a promotion to Pharmacist's Mate Second Class in September 1942, Willis served with Naval Operating Base Units, organizing and training units for overseas service. In July 1943 he was promoted to Pharmacist's Mate First Class. That November he joined the Training Detachment, Field Medical School Battalion, Fleet Marine Force Training Center at Camp Elliott, San Diego, CA, transferring in early 1944 to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, CA.

With the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines, he participated as a Platoon Corpsman in the Battle of Iwo Jima. On 28 February 1945, while aiding fallen Marines during a fierce action near Japanese-held Hill 362, he was wounded and ordered back to the battle-aid station. Disregarding his injuries, Willis returned to the battle area to resume casualty assistance. He was helping a wounded Marine when the enemy attacked with hand grenades. After throwing eight grenades back at the enemy, he was killed when one exploded in his hand. For his actions during the battle, Willis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Pharmacist's Mate First Class, U.S. Navy.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Platoon Corpsman serving with the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 28 February 1945. Constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy's cross-island defenses, Willis resolutely administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until he himself was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, he quickly returned to his company and, during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack, daringly advanced to the extreme frontlines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a marine lying wounded in a shell hole. Completely unmindful of his own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, Willis calmly continued to administer blood plasma to his patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell-hole while he was working and hurling back 7 more in quick succession before the ninth 1 exploded in his hand and instantly killed him. By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, he inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force. His exceptional fortitude and courage in the performance of duty reflect the highest credit upon Willis and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.


The destroyer escort USS John Willis (DE-1027) was named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Harlan Willis was killed in action on 28 February 1945. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Columbia, TN.

Honoree ID: 1718   Created by: MHOH




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